One Last Shot

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Boy tries to heal his family in intense mini-golf tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

It turns out there's quite a bit of history, strategy, and lore in the sport of miniature golf (including the fact that it came into existence partly because ladies weren't allowed to play "real" golf). Each chapter (centered on a particular hole in the course) passes on quite a bit of it as Malcolm plays in a tournament. References to books from Squirrel Girl to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Malcolm is also a smart kid whose brain never stops, taking him (and the reader) to some interesting places along the way, as here, when a teacher asks him what he's thinking about, which turns out to be vampires: "She kept looking at me, so I went on to explain that vitamin D is produced naturally by the human body in response to exposure to sunlight, but that's a problem for vampires, for obvious reasons. So where do they get their vitamin D? Do they just have brittle bones from a vitamin deficiency? Or does it even matter because they're immortal? Or maybe their digestive system is capable of extracting the necessary vitamins and nutrients from the blood of their victims, which would make sense, but what if their victims were indoorsy types and had a deficiency as well?"

Positive Messages

Strong messages of finding something you actually love, working hard at it, and getting better -- all while holding your own in the face of other people's expectations. Friendship, perseverance, resourceful thinking, forgiveness, and unexpected talent are all important parts of the story.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Malcolm's parents -- especially his father, who seems to have never gotten over his college-athlete glory days -- spent a whole lot of the story sniping and tearing each other down, catching him in the middle. But sometimes, just when he's sure they'll react badly, they surprise him with kindness and support, and gradually reveal past tragedy behind the conflict. His new friend Lex turns out not just to know a lot about tap dancing, she's very good at it -- and good at being there for him. His golf coach (an old buddy of his dad's) is an overweight slob who seems to eat nothing but greasy junk food and predictably lands in the hospital -- but also teaches Malcolm valuable lessons about golf and life. Malcolm tries to take it all in, do his best, and stay out of trouble.


There's no physical violence, but Malcolm's parents are constantly at odds, pushing each other's buttons, and fighting over everything, putting Malcolm in an environment that ranges from abrasive to explosive when it's not about toxic manipulation and guilt-tripping. In the past, the death of a baby traumatizes his family. Malcolm's grandmother passed on recently, and is often in his head giving him quirky, no-nonsense advice. A food fight turns into comic relief all around. Brief, comical discussion of vampires.


There aren't any lovey-dovey couples in this story. Aside from Malcolm's quarrelsome parents, there's his coach, who's still bumming about his divorce and his ex-wife, who once destroyed his most precious Transformer. The parents of Malcolm's new friend Lex (Alexis) are divorced, but amicably.


Occasional "pee," "sucks," "come back to bite me on the bum," "you bet your sweet butt cheeks," "screw up," jockstrap humor. Malcolm gets the giggles when his coach goes on a long serious lecture about balls and shafts; his coach says "You're twelve" and waits for Malcolm to get it out of his system.


Many brand names mentioned as part of scene-setting (like the "Coke" machine at the mini-golf course that actually sells Pepsi) or character definition (as when Malcolm makes a series of unsuccessful attempts to put Froot Loops, Lucky Charms, and other sugary cereals in his mom's shopping cart. Malcolm and his new friend Lex bond over a discussion about how brand names like Kleenex and Band-Aid come to describe a whole generic category of products.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that One Last Shot, by John David Anderson, is the story of a smart, geeky 12-year-old trying to navigate the treacherous world of his quarreling parents, for whom nothing he does seems to be good enough. He finds unexpected transformation, life lessons, and friendship in the sport of miniature golf. Narrator Malcolm's constant terror of setting off another argument that finally takes his family to the point of no return, as well as his parents' toxic button-pushing, sniping, and dirty looks, are so convincing, they may be too intense and wearing for more sensitive readers. There's a bit of crude humor along with the suggestion that it's pretty juvenile (the 12-year-old narrator gets the giggles over a discussion of balls and shafts; his coach waits for him to get over it). And there are appealing characters who aren't at each other's throats and offer Malcolm friendship, support, and wisdom. As elsewhere in Anderson's work, the road is rocky, the experiences oddly relatable, and the resolution satisfying.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Malcolm figures he's got ONE LAST SHOT at keeping his family from his quarreling parents' best efforts to blow things up --and it involves winning a miniature golf tournament. Hole by hole, he takes on the course, his interior monologue switching from the intricate play-by-play challenges to recalling the things that got him there. His parents, constantly fighting over everything and nothing; his ex-jock father trying to relive his baseball glory days through Malcolm, who hates baseball; the unexpected discovery that he's actually good at miniature golf, and the arrival of his unpromising-looking coach, who dispenses wisdom and junk food in plentiful doses. Once again, nothing's exactly going to plan, as his dad (whose idea the whole thing was) hasn't shown up, his coach is in the hospital (heart attack caused by the junk food), and Jamie Tran, mini-golf king, is well on his way to winning this tournament just like he won all the others. Through it all, Malcolm struggles to keep  his focus on the game and his eyes on the prize.

Is it any good?

A boy's life-changing discovery of miniature golf, and his hope that a tournament victory will make his parents finally appreciate him and stop fighting, brings humor, wisdom, and lots of golf lore. As Malcolm takes One Last Shot at salvaging his family, he garners support, wisdom, social skills, and life lessons from newfound friends. It's a rewarding, relatable read, but the constant anxiety brought on by having to navigate his parents' minefield may be too intense for some. As here, when Malcolm sees a faint, glimmering hope that his father will let him bail from Little League, but knows there's a catch. Many catches.

"'What about you?

"'What about me?' he asked back.

"'Would you... you know... would you be mad?'

"Dad seemed to think for a moment. 'No. Not mad.' His voice trailed off, leaving a big blank space for me to fill in.

"Sometimes conversations are full of blank spaces. Like Mad Libs. Somebody will say something and then pause, waiting for you to think what they were too frightened or embarrassed or polite to say. My parents ended a lot of their sentences this way when they talked to each other. They had whole conversations that seemed to be filled with unspoken words, little bits of quicksand for the other person to walk into.

"This blank was easy to fill. He wouldn't be mad, but he might not ever look at me the same way for a while."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories like One Last Shot, where the hero just has to win some contest, and all the things that will miraculously be fixed if that happens. Sports events, magic competitions, cooking contests, winning the princess, etc. Why do you think this has been such a popular theme over the centuries? What other examples have you encountered?

  • Have you ever played miniature golf? After reading this story, do you want to go give it another shot?

  • Do you have friends whose parents always seem to be fighting? How do they cope? Is there anything you can do to help?

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